The Ethical Side of Agricultural Growth Projects in Africa
By admin December 5, 2016

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Amongst the many challenges Africa faces today, we can surely enlist obstacles related to food production as one of them. With massive population growth facing countries across the continent, along with the environmental challenges related to climate change and low yield growth, Africa needs to expand food production or it may never resolve its massive (and increasing) problems of food insecurity.

Even if countries on the continent are successful in negotiating more favorable trade conditions and introducing policy reforms, Africa will still need to increase yields at the micro level, amongst the rural communities which greatly relies on agriculture for their survival.

To do this, improved agricultural practices need to be implemented by smallholder farmers. This will require access to high quality and locally-relevant information. But African smallholder farmers have little access to information, particularly due to a lack of modern connectivity.

Thus, to overcome this major issue, development programs have devised different approaches: one of them is the extension approach, in which an officer promotes the adoption of new practices and technologies. These officers are integral to supplying information to farmers, particularly in information and resource-constrained contexts.

However, due to a lack of funding, extension officers are often responsible of a large number of households, and this can diminish the efficacy of the service: a manageable target would lie well below 500 households per officer, while frequently extension officers are responsible for several thousand households.

This method is often complemented by the “farmer-to-farmer” extension approaches, in which a local community member becomes a “lead” or “model” farmer and delivers information to other farmers. In theory, this engages local knowledge and networks and eases the introduction of new information.

On the surface, it could be argued that farmers are generally aware of new technologies, and so farmer-to-farmer systems are working. Yet, a recent research found that farmers are frustrated with the system, expressing the view that they felt “forgotten” or “struggling”. Put simply, they said they knew new practices existed, but not enough to implement them. Many knew of lead farmers in their community but felt unable to access them.

The farmer-to-farmer system has also other important shortcomings: firstly, the existing social networks in the communities may not serve well due to a lack of trust to the lead farmers, either because of their gender or religion. Even if the lead farmer is part of the social group, jealousy can hinder cooperation. There have been reported cases were farmers knew a technology was beneficial, but were angered that they were not provided enough inputs to implement it and thus dis-adopt it.

In conclusion, the development community seemed to have overlooked the ethical dilemmas associated with raising one individual above others. Farmer-to-farmer systems can actually disrupt traditional power dynamics and entrench a new class of elites. This is particularly true given the impact of direct subsidies to individuals in resource constrained environments.

Alternatives to this system are represented by Farmer training centres and innovation platforms; these tend to be more inclusive in terms of access, but need further modification to be effective.

What is clear is that the focus must be on ensuring inclusivity and sustainability, and social capital needs to be fostered for communities to be able to build more sustainable ethical and social practices and be able to achieve a kind of development in harmony with the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

For more information:

Achieving food security for one million sub-Saharan African poor through push–pull innovation by 2020

Africa’s agriculture projects are growing inequality, not food

World population projected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050

Africa Research Bulletin: Economic, Financial and Technical Series

World Food Program – Hunger statistics

Why the low adoption of agricultural technologies in Eastern and Central Africa?

Malawi – The status of extension and Advisory services in Malawi: a case study of policies, capacities, approaches and impact

Thanks for sharing !

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